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Spanking Found To Have Negative Effects On Low-income Toddlers

Date:
September 15, 2009
Source:
Society for Research in Child Development
Summary:
A longitudinal study of more than 2,500 low-income White, African American, and Mexican-American mothers and their children found that spanking at age 1 leads to more aggressive behaviors at age 2 and less sophisticated cognitive development at age 3. In contrast, researchers found that verbal punishment alone didn't affect children's aggression or their cognitive development. Interestingly, when verbal punishment was accompanied by emotional support from moms, children performed better on cognitive ability tests.

A child is verbally disciplined by his father. Spanking 1-year-olds leads to more aggressive behaviors and less sophisticated cognitive development in the next two years. Verbal punishment is not associated with such effects.
Credit: iStockphoto/Andrew Penner

A new longitudinal study that looks at how low-income parents discipline their young children has found that spanking 1-year-olds leads to more aggressive behaviors and less sophisticated cognitive development in the next two years. Verbal punishment is not associated with such effects, especially when it is accompanied by emotional support from moms. In addition, 1-year-olds' fussiness predicted spanking and verbal punishment at ages 1, 2, and 3.

The study, which explored whether mothers' behaviors lead to problematic behavior in children, whether children's challenging behaviors elicit harsher discipline, or both, appears in the September/October 2009 issue of the journal Child Development. It was conducted by researchers at Duke University, the University of Missouri-Columbia, the University of South Carolina, Columbia University, Harvard University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Beliefs on spanking vary across cultures. In this study, the researchers looked at more than 2,500 exclusively low-income White, African American, and Mexican-American mothers and their young children, interviewing and observing them at home when the children were 1, 2, and 3 years old. All participants' family incomes were at or below the federal poverty level.

Using their own interpretations of spanking, mothers reported how often anyone in the home had spanked their children in the past week. Researchers also made in-home observations of how often mothers verbally punished (scolded, yelled, or made negative comments) their children during the visits.

The study found that African American children were spanked and verbally punished significantly more than the other children in the study. The authors speculated that this may be due to cultural factors, such as belief in the importance of children's respect for elders and in the value of physical discipline to instill that respect. Moreover, some African American mothers say that in preparing their children for a harsh, physically dangerous, and racially discriminating world, there is little room for error in their childrearing.

The authors also uncovered information about the effects of those types of discipline.

"Our findings clearly indicate that spanking affects children's development," according to Lisa J. Berlin, research scientist at the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University and the study's lead author. Specifically, children who were spanked more often at 1 behaved more aggressively when they were 2 and had lower scores on tests measuring thinking skills when they were 3. These findings held up even after taking into consideration such family characteristics as mothers' race and ethnicity, age, and education; family income and structure; and the children's gender. The study also found that children who were more aggressive at age 2 and had lower cognitive development scores at ages 1 and 2 were not spanked more at ages 2 and 3. "So the mothers' behaviors look more influential than the children's," said Berlin.

Unlike spanking, however, verbal punishment alone didn't affect either children's aggression or their cognitive development. But interestingly, when verbal punishment was accompanied by emotional support from moms, the children did better on the tests of cognitive ability.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Society for Research in Child Development. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Berlin et al. Correlates and Consequences of Spanking and Verbal Punishment for Low-Income White, African American, and Mexican American Toddlers. Child Development, 2009; 80 (5): 1403 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01341.x

Cite This Page:

Society for Research in Child Development. "Spanking Found To Have Negative Effects On Low-income Toddlers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 September 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090915100941.htm>.
Society for Research in Child Development. (2009, September 15). Spanking Found To Have Negative Effects On Low-income Toddlers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090915100941.htm
Society for Research in Child Development. "Spanking Found To Have Negative Effects On Low-income Toddlers." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090915100941.htm (accessed September 30, 2014).

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